My aging brown and white Border Collie, River, gingerly stepped out of the metal crate. It was dark, rain was coming down in sheets. He debated his desire to leave his warm bed in the back of the cream colored Subaru Outback. Nature called. He urgently needed to pee. His front feet touched down directly into a puddle of water. You could almost see the words in his mind. “Ewww, tree, gotta pee, gotta pee, awwwwwhh.” I shut the back of the car and guided him with the attached leather leash toward the back of the hotel. My warm black down-filled coat was becoming sodden. The cold rain running from my coat down across my jeans lfelt like tendrils of icy fingers, trying to gain entrance into my shoes. Stepping enthusiastically into the hotel my dog’s nose immediately went to work. Who had been here before him? He was a seasoned traveler and never grew tired of new adventures. Would he go into an elevator? Better not try that. I had visions of the door closing, River on the landing and me inside the elevator, the leash in my hand still attached to my dog’s collar, strangling him. We opted for the stair case. He could see between the steps. There was no backstop. Would that bother him? He ran quickly up to the first landing, almost smiling with delight. “See,” he seemed to say, “I made it, Scary though”. One more landing and we were on the second floor. Room 317 of the number three building but our room was on the second floor. Who came up with that numbering system? I put the thin credit card key into my room’s lock. The dog raced into the room, the leash slipped out of my hands and trailed behind him. He jumped up onto the first bed, “Mine! This one’s perfect for me!” I called him off and rubbed his wet coat with an old rag I had brought along. Turning around I grabbed the clean old blankets from my car to put on the bed for him. He immediately jumped on the bed again, messing up my blanket. He stopped a moment, flat on his back, feet up in the air, belly exposed, “Yes! I could live here”. He rolled back around and jumped from the bed. What else was there to explore? I prepared his supper. Even traveling we had a structure to maintain, food at 5pm, followed by a homemade biscuit and then a walk for him to sniff and eliminate. His bowels were on a strict schedule. On returning from a longer walk in the rain his routine called for a long drink of water. Later he would need to visit the dark black topped parking lot before his final rest. Traveling with a dog or dogs involves always thinking of them first. I’m wet, tired from driving 9 hours from Portland, Oregon over the Siskiyous. Luck was somewhat on my side. Climbing up the first pass from Medford it had started to rain. There was no snow in sight nor any forecasted. At the top of the 4900’ pass the shower became more serious, testing me. My hands tightened on the steering wheel. The 18 wheelers zoomed by me on the downside, throwing up cascades of more water onto my windshield, temporarily blinding me. I slowed down. Drivers going 70 mph passed me as if I were standing still, beeping or flashing lights or maybe “flipping me the bird”. I don’t know. I didn’t dare take my eyes off the road. Seemingly within 10 minutes dark descended and the decision of where to stay became imminent. My night vision is leaving me in my 50+ body. With the rain, the dark, the speeding traffic, my exhaustion played tricks with my mind. My car slowed to 50 mph. I couldn’t go faster, could only see the white stripe on the side of the road. Stop now, stop now, my mind told my numb fingers. An expensive hotel became our sanctuary. River and I cuddled together for the night, sleeping soundly. I had missed my own lunch and supper but was too tired to care. Included with the lodging was a free breakfast. While the dog relaxed comfortably in his crate with his Hedgehog toy I gorged myself the next morning on eggs, hash browns, 2 muffins and coffee. Nice! River and I continued on through California along I-5. My goal was an olive store in Williams, California. From there I decided to try a different route, getting off I-5 in Sacramento and driving south on 99. Again, even after some potty and lunch breaks for River and I dusk came quickly. Another appealing hotel sign appeared in the distance. It was located a few miles off 99. The hotel was new and no cars were in the parking lot. The location was hard to find. You could see it off the highway but getting to the actual hotel required some extra turns and twists. I dragged my stiff body out of the car, eager to lie across a hotel bed and relax. “Oh, we don’t take dogs over 25#’s”. The young desk clerk looked sleepy and bored. I was his only paying customer but he refused to allow River. He waved vague directions to a pet friendly hotel. Wandering down the highway in my Subaru in the wrong direction, eastbound instead of westbound, I turned around and finally found the hotel he mentioned. Another expensive chain. I didn’t care. I was tired. River needed a good run and dinner. This was as far as we were going. So here’s the part that surprises me. Other dog carrying customers were also lodged in this far flung area of the hotel, way in back, away from the restaurant, the drinking and dancing customers. Yet at 4am my dog abruptly woke me up barking. I jumped up to find my bill had been shoved under my door. Gee, thanks, I don’t remember requesting a wake up call. To add injury to insult at 5am a national newspaper was plopped down outside my door. River wasn’t letting anyone near me. He barked at the potential intruder. Okay. A quick shower and we were out of there. I held off eating breakfast until I had driven scenic highway 58 to Tehachapi. McDonalds golden gates were a familiar figure. I stopped there to wolf down a fattening meal and some strong coffee. One bad thing about traveling, most hotel’s coffee is merely black water. McDonald’s coffee sufficed. Part of me wanted to tour the town and part of me wanted to drive, drive, drive. Get to Florida and be done with this maniacal plan that I had set in place six months ago. I was in stage three of a four step plan: sell home, retire, drive Subaru and River across country, then fly back to my starting place, rent a car and drive my remaining two dogs to Florida along with a friend to keep me company. It was an insane plan that came to me in pieces one early March day while walking to work. The Oregon weather had finally broken my spirit, along with a broken relationship, an agonizingly boring job with gossipy women and the back breaking financial strain of carrying a car loan, mortgage and all the accompanying living expenses. One night I answered the phone. My mom’s raspy voice sounded near death. Over the past 2 years I’d made 3 trips to FL to help my parents through heart surgeries, back trouble, falls and a temporary move to a retirement home. A voice inside me said to sell the house and move. Once those words were spoken in my mind there was no turning back. My parents were ecstatic. I started furiously cleaning, painting, packing, fixing. The expense was put on my credit card which had been issued to me with a huge credit advance. My balance was quickly reaching close to the top. I panicked. A realtor was hired and the house was put on the market the first weekend in May. The economy dived, the housing market slumped, some of my retirement fund tanked. I must be crazy!!!!!!!!! In early August another thought came into my mind. Hire a moving company to move most of my stuff to FL (no packing boxes in the garage would make the 1200 sq ft house appear bigger), fly to FL to oversee the mover’s delivery of my stuff and while I would be on the east coast the house would sell. And miraculously that is exactly what happened. As if in a dream the realtor called with an offer. I was incredulous. In this market? My house? And now here I was a month later driving from Tehachapi, CA across the desert, over to San Bernadino to Palm Springs. River and I were out of place in this rich city, my dusty car filled with the crate, extra dog food, my computer, an ice chest and all the last minute junk that I couldn’t give up as I left my house. Surprisingly, somewhat tearful, I had left a message on my realtor’s cell phone. The house was ready for it’s new owner. I was done and drove down the flag lot driveway for the last time, the car sitting lower to the ground than usual. Would I be able to pull off step three? What was I thinking? Drive across country, alone (but with a dog), in an over laden car. Nuts, simply nuts. But there was nothing to do but to continue on with the plan. And so it went as imagined in the dream. Not in the dream were moments of being scared, frustrated and excuse the expression, just plain dog tired.
Step Three of Four